The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

Hunger GamesThe struggle of right against wrong is probably the oldest theme in entertainment.  When Suzanne Collins wrote her novel, The Hunger Games, it was foremost in her thinking.  However,  society itself molds what is considered right and wrong according to the times, rewriting history and ideals to conform to current thinking.

The Hunger Games, like many excellent novels, moves that conflict to another time and place so that we can clearly see right and wrong for what it is and react accordingly, without prejudice.  This iconic Young Adult dystopian novel, written in First Person Present, certainly brought the entire genre a gigantic step forward, pitching it into the general public as a phenomenon.  Although wildly popular among teens, it has also been a crossover hit with adults, partly because it explores the parameters of right and wrong without prejudice.

In District 12 of the country of Panem, a nation formed from the ruins of the old United States, Katniss Everdeen struggles to feed her family.  Since the death of her father, a coal miner, her mother has become distant and Katniss takes care of her younger sister, Primrose.  Every year, two young people are selected from each district to participate in a fight to the death in a special arena created for them by a game master.  Called the Hunger Games, this event is televised throughout Panem, using special cameras that are hidden all over the arena.  When Prim’s name is unexpectedly chosen, by a representative of the Capitol named Effie Trinket, Katniss volunteers to take her place.  She travels to the Capitol with the male tribute from her district, Peeta Mellark, the son of their local baker.  She remembers that he once threw her a burned loaf of bread when her family was starving.  Accompanied by drunken Haymitch Abernathy, the lone District 12 winner in the history of the games, she learns more about getting sponsors by being likable.

A sytlist named Cinna gives her an appealing appearance and the tributes are all interviewed by television personality Caesar Flickerman.  During his interview, Peeta reveals that he has always had a crush on her, but Katniss suspects he is only saying it to gain sponsors.  Half of the tributes are killed during the first few minutes of the Hunger Games as they try to gain the weapons held in a Cornucopia.  Katniss, Peeta, and a few others run away and the remaining tributes, mostly those from the wealthiest districts who have been professionally trained, join forces to kill them off.  Their leader is a bully named Cato.  While hiding in the woods, she discovers that Peeta has joined forces with them.  She forms an alliance with a young girl, Rue, from District 11, but that is cut short when Rue is killed.  Katniss kills her assassin, then mourns Rue by singing to her and surrounding her body with flowers, an action that elicits much sympathy among the viewers of the event.  Styled as “the star-crossed lovers,” the game master takes advantage of viewer support to change the rules so they can both win if they survive.

Katniss goes looking for Peeta and finds him badly wounded, hiding covered with mud near the river.  She cleans him up and nurses him as best she can, cleaning out a deep wound, and creates a makeshift shelter.  Finally, she kisses him to enhance the story line of “star-crossed lovers” and is rewarded with some broth for Peeta.  Determined to put on a good show and perhaps get some salve for Peeta’s leg, Katniss kisses him again.

Only six tributes remain alive at this point, but they are killed off until only Cato remains.  Forced to the Cornucopia by wild dogs, a struggle ensues until Cato is dead, but the game master changes the rules again, stating that only one of them can be victor.  Katniss brings out deadly berries and they decide to suicide together, but then the game is stopped and they are declared mutual winners.

Haymitch warns Katniss that her act of defiance may have severe repercussions from the government.  At the end, Peeta realizes that she’s been playing a game with his affections to get sponsors and they return to District 12, but Katniss is herself unsure of her feelings.

The book is very economically written, nearly perfect in its concentration on the action, yet through Katniss’ thoughts, we gain all kinds of inside into who she is and we see her arc from someone who just wants to survive into someone who is beginning to understand that a revolution will be necessary.

It moves so quickly that it is tempting to finish the book in one read and then return to it with leisure to savor all of the good writing that makes it a potent novel.

The ideas are not necessarily new, but the style makes it very special.  One of the most difficult things for a writer to create is naming characters and Collins has done a masterful job in giving us names that are unique and resonate.  That carried over so well into the movie where the actors were able to develop their characters based on a name and a very little deep information.

Another triumph of this novel is how well Collins uses the First Person Present perspective.  It is not easy to write, yet in Collins’ hand, it seems effortless.  Moving so quickly, it seems amazingly natural.

An iconic book, The Hunger Games seems destined to be a Young Adult novel that will have many, many years of shelf life, partly because it can be read again and again with deepening enjoyment.

I highly recommend this novel not just for teens, but for all readers.


Hunger Games 03Please read my review of the movie The Hunger Games!

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Allegiant by Veronica Roth

Allegiant by Veronica RothThis third and final installment of the Divergent Trilogy takes the bizarre, complicated plot even further and it relies even more on people making stupid decisions, rending it by far the worst of the three books that make up this ill-advised trilogy.

This review reveals the conclusion of the series, but it is for the benefit of the reader as you may not wish to read the whole thing knowing how it ends.

The battle between the factionless, led by Four’s mother, Evelyn, and the former factions, led by Four’s father, Marcus, heats up considerably, so Tris and Four leave Chicago and find the people who are really running this bizarre mess of a society, the Bureau of Genetic Welfare, and its leader David.  It turns out that these people have really screwed things up by trying to create better humans, so the Divergent are actually normal people and those belonging to factions are genetically damaged.  When Four discovers that he is genetically damaged, he stupidly joins in a plot against the Bureau, which, it turns out, wasn’t such a bad idea because they are in fact the big bad villains.  David decides that since their experiment was a failure, they need to release a chemical throughout the city that will wipe the minds of everyone, then they can start out all over again and do it right.

Reacting against this bizarre notion, Tris throws her life away trying to stop him.

It was established in the other novels that Tris has a death wish, but quite frankly, I never took it seriously, because in all other respects, she seemed (in spite of a steady spate of tears) to be a strong, fairly intelligent person.  She is, after all, the heroine.  Readers need to be aware that this trilogy is a *tragedy* in the true sense of the word.  We’re all so used to having happy endings, especially in Young Adult literature, that reading a dystopian YA tragedy is a pretty shocking affair.

Roth has tried to make her death seem organic, by repeatedly bringing up her death wish, but I really thought that it was perhaps the final thing she had to overcome in order to become a complete person.  No, it turns out that she really hasn’t grown that much at all.  She simply throws herself away.

Although the plot, and especially the ending, are serious problems in the novel, maybe the biggest problem is the “voice.”

In the first two novels, Roth established a wonderful voice for Tris and since both of the books are written in the First Person Present tense, it works very well.  The third novel, however, introduces the voice of Four as she alternates perspective in different chapters.  It is a bit of a shock, after having a consistent viewpoint in each of the first two novels, to have someone else speaking, but real problem is that Roth has not bothered to create a unique voice for Four.  He sounds so much like Tris that many times I had to flip back to the beginning of a chapter to find out who was speaking.  In terms of creating unique characters, this is a very serious problem.  Once I understood that Tris would die, the reasoning became apparent: she had to have someone continue speaking after Tris was dead.  In the end, I don’t think that matters at all.  As soon as Tris died, I closed the book and put it away because the voice I had listened to for several hundred thousands words was silenced and I didn’t care what happened afterwards.

Allegiant has the feeling, like Insurgent before it of being a rushed effort.  I don’t think that Roth truly took the time to think through her story before writing it, because there are so many things that don’t make sense, that don’t seem believable, that it seems unnatural, rather than an organically sound plotting.

My final advice to readers would be to enjoy the first book in the series, Divergent, and be happy with that, because it is the only complete, beautifully written, cogent novel in the trilogy.  It is pretty well designed, with strong characters, a terrific plot, and it is written in a style that makes for satisfying reading.

Of all the Young Adult dystopian trilogies in the market, the Divergent Trilogy starts out among the best and ends up among the worst.

The Skies of Pern by Anne McCaffrey

Skies of Pern Les EdwardsIn this final book in the 9th Pass saga of The Dragonriders of Pern, the story turns to the aftermath of events in All the Weyrs of Pern.  At the end of that book, the dragonriders, led by Jaxom and under the guidance of the computer AIVAS move the engines of the three space ships that brought the original colony from Earth into Red Star, exploding to force it into an orbit from which it can no longer drop Thread onto Pern.  Following this heroic exploit, AIVAS turned itself off and Master Robinton expired.

The following review contains plot spoilers.

The Skies of Pern brings forward the character of F’lessan, son of F’lar and Lessa, who appeared much earlier in the saga as a boy and a young man.  Now, the mature rider of bronze dragon Golanth, with sons of his own, F’lessan looks toward the end of the Pass, contemplating what he will do After.  In the previous novel, he discovered the ruins of Honshu Hold deep in the Southern Continent.  He has been restoring it.  Coming to Landing for the Turnover festivities at the beginning of the 31st Turn of the Pass, he goes to the AIVAS library to do some research and runs into a female green dragon rider, Tai, whose dragon is Zaranth.  Making friends with her, they attend the festival, but she disappears when Mirrim and T’gellan show up, she disappears, only to discover Abominators breaking glass at the Healer’s Hall.

The same dumb Abominators from All the Weyrs of Pern are back, wreaking havoc by destroying products that AIVAS showed the Pernese how to create and use.  They are working on a large, concerted level.  F’lessan finds Tai swimming and shows unusual concern for her welfare, just as Golanth seems to care about Zaranth.

Before their relationship can proceed further, however, a comet fragment bursts through the atmosphere and plunges into the eastern sea, causing massive tidal waves that inundate both the north and south, completely submerging Monaco Weyr.

After a great deal of timing, once again the dragons of Pern and their courageous riders rescue holders and move people to higher ground, exhausting themselves in the process.  F’lessan manages to work with Tai and gets her and the other Monaco riders to go to Honshu for rest.  After the others have made new weyrs, Tai and Zaranth stay on.  When Zaranth rises to mate, Golanth flies her and F’lessan discovers that Tai has never had a good experience with the almost compulsory sex that goes along with a mating flight of dragons.  She has been raped over and over by other dragonriders.  Showing a great deal of care and concern, F’lessan makes love to her and brings her to love him.

Having served as an assistant to Starsmith Wansor, Tai is well versed in studying the heavens, so F’lessan retrieves what he needs from Landing in order to get the Honshu telescope working again.  After a night of stargazing, they swim in the river and then fall asleep on one of the ledges above the pool, with their dragons sleeping just below them.  Zaranth wakes up to a feeling of danger just as a large pack of the wild felines attack them.  Golanth is closest to them and they do considerable damage to him and to F’lessan, while Zaranth uses her newfound power of telekinesis to throw the felines off.  Ruth, Ramoth and Mnementh all respond to Zaranth’s distress call and she shows them how to use telekinesis to destroy the felines.

As F’lessan and Golanth go through a long and difficult recovery, the holders of the planet plan to press the dragonriders into finding a way to prevent future meteorites and comets from attacking Pern.  The answer lies in mapping the skies, a concept that F’lessan had previously given to the weyrleaders.  With a future in astronomy, F’lar and the others make plans to build more observatories to map the skies and watch for future incursions.  With the dragons having telekinesis, they will find a way to deflect future meteorites.

F’lessan and Tai become weyr mates and will be in charge of the Honshu observatory.

Along the way, the Abominators are defeated.

There are a great many delightful things in this novel, but the villains are such minor characters that they really don’t get much in the way of the story, as McCaffrey’s villains do in some of the other books.  All of the familiar characters are back, of course, excluding Master Robinton.  F’lar and Lessa are considering retirement, but F’lar wants to continue to lead Benden Weyr through the end of the Pass.  They are much larger characters in this novel than in some of the other later novels in the series.

F’lessan and Tai are both delightful characters and the attack of the felines is one of McCaffrey’s best written action sequences in any of her books.  There is much to love in this novel for the dedicated Pern reader, but I must confess that I felt very sad when it was finished, almost as if I were putting away Pern again for a while.

But the wonderful thing about The Dragonriders of Pern is that it can be started all over at any time and the reader will delight in following through all the books to get to The Skies of Pern.  It’s such a wonderful series that it can be read over and over again.  You can look forward to the beginning, even as you read through the end.

Katharine Hepburn by Barbara Holland

Katharine Hepburn 01This brief look into the life of one of our greatest actresses was written in association with the Biography television program and it has the feel of that breezy show as it reduces a great life into a few cogent points, concentrating instead on the mention of her films and stage appearances.

Hepburn was certainly an enigmatic personality.

Although her birth date remains in doubt to this day, it is reckoned that she was born in either May or November of 1907 in Hartford, Connecticut to Dr. Tom Hepburn and Katharine Houghton (of the Houghton-Mifflin publishing firm and Corning Glass Works).  Her father was a very strong conservative figure, who encouraged his children to take risks, but it was almost impossible to gain his good graces.  Her mother was rather liberal and was involved in the women’s rights movement in America from the earliest stages.  Kate grew up torn in two directions.

Her family had a history of suicides and biographer Holland hints that it may have been due to heredity, although the rigid, emotionless aspects of her father certainly hints at rebellion against convention.

Her older brother Tommy committed suicide while on a trip to New York with Kate, but the whole family glossed over it, almost as if it didn’t happen.  Kate’s family believed that you should never dwell on the past, but always look ahead to the future.  Planning and working were the things that you got you through life and that partly accounts for her optimistic views, healthy lifestyle, and prodigious work right up until her death in 1996.

Katharine Hepburn 02Much is made of her relationships, specifically with director John Ford and actor Spencer Tracy.  Likening each of these men to father figures, the book ponders whether her lifelong obsession with pleasing her father didn’t spill over into her love life.  Both men were married and yet each carried on a 30 year love affair with Kate.  Tracy, it is stated, was the love of her life, but he would not divorce his wife because of his strict Catholic background.  He comes off very badly in this biography, as a bully who ruined Katharine’s career by insisting that she be at his beck and call.  When he went on drinking binges for days at a time, she would wait outside his door and tend to his needs.  Apparently, he did not live with his wife, but spent many years living in a Los Angeles hotel before retiring to guest house on George Cukor’s estate.

Many people may not realize that Katharine Hepburn had an extensive state career and was a failure at stage acting for many years because she always appeared to be so manic.  In middle and late years, she began to act Shakespeare, touring and playing a variety of roles, relaxing in her celebrity and doing very well.  She was a big hit in the Broadway musical Coco, even though she couldn’t sing.

During her career, she won four Academy Awards for Best Actress, even though critics constantly complained that she only played herself.  That is not unusual at all, even now, when most film actors don’t really act.  Since the early days of silent film, audiences have flocked to the theater to see the personalities, not to see them disappear into their characters.  Spencer Tracy did not even want to have any make-up applied at all.  But even though these celebrity actors play themselves, they are still able to carve out excellent performances from the force of their character and Hepburn did that in a great many of her films.

Katharine Hepburn 03She remained a health nut, swimming in icy Long Island Channel into her 80’s, cooking her own food, and staying true to herself.

Her films will certainly remain as classics long into the future.

All the Weyrs of Pern by Anne McCaffrey

All the Weyrs of PernIn what many thought might be the last of the Pern 9th Pass novels, the computer AIVAS (Artificial Intelligence Voice Address System) serves as a major character in the fight to end Thread forever.  At the end of the previous novel, The Renegades of Pern, AIVAS came to life in the old Landing Administration Building after Piemer, Jancis, Jaxom, and his white dragon, Ruth, had unearthed the solar panels that had been intermittently covered by ash and dust over the last 2,500 years since the explosion of the volcano that sent the original colonists scurrying north to take Hold there.

The following review is written with the understanding that readers are already familiar with the novel, so if you haven’t read it yet, beware of plot spoilers!

With technology long lost to the people of Pern, AIVAS recites the history of the founding of the colony as told in Dragonsdawn, complete with movies and stills showing Admiral Paul Benden, Governor Emily Boll, and all of the other colorful figures, including the exploits of Sallah Telgar in thwarting the evil intentions of Avril Bitra.  In a sonorous male voice, AIVAS explains that his last assignment was to find a way to permanently remove Thread from the skies of Pern.  Now–with the help of darned near the whole planet–he’s found a way to do it.  This delights F’lar no end and they set about reconstructing Landing, teaching Jaxom, Piemer, Jancis, and anyone else who is interested how to assemble and use a computer.  Teaching remedial math, physics, medicine, and so on, he gradually elevates the level of education to the point where they can understand sophisticated concepts and manage complicated machinery, bringing them back to the level they were at when the original colonial ships arrived in orbit some 2,500 Turns ago.

This effort is not without the pernicious attempts of villains to thwart it.  Chief among them are Master Norist, head of the Glass Smith Crafthall and Lords Sigomal of Bitra and Begamon of Nerat.  Norist gives AIVAS the nickname of “The Abomination” and blames it for destroying the traditions of Pern.  He refuses to have anything to do with AIVAS and thus one of his subordinates, Master Morilton takes over working with Landing, his work benefiting from a greater knowledge that Norist.  In addition, Toric’s brother, Hamian, who had been sent to receive his Mastery from Fandarel in the Smithcrafthall, decides to take up the production of plastic, leaving Toric to commit himself to Landing.

AIVAS takes on the education of Master Oldive, Sharra, Mirrim, and others to not only study medicine more deeply, but to take apart frozen Thread ovoids and find ways to change parasitical bacteria into predators.  As time passes, Sharra gradually becomes aware that AIVAS has selected Jaxom to lead the dangerous mission.  Gradually, the craftsmen and dragonriders take each step along the road to prepare them for AIVAS’s Master plan, which he will not actually discuss with them: there are trips between to the Yokahama to prepare the ship for human occupation (and to remove Sallah Telgar’s body from the bridge), repairs and maintenance on the old ship, and extra-vehicular activity to familiarize dragons and riders with space.  Hamian is trying to develop enough space suits for the dragonriders.  Eventually, Jaxom, F’lar and Lessa take a trip to the Red Star to familiarize themselves with the landmarks so they can have reference points for the other dragons.

In spite of the best efforts of D’ram, Lytol, Jaxom, and the others, the Abominators hire devious people to drug and kidnap Master Robinton with the notion that they can force the dragonriders to destroy AIVAS to get him back.  They take this action boldly at the Ruatha Gather with Lord Jaxom and Lady Sharra presiding.  Of course, the dragonriders, with the help of fire lizards, locate Robinton and round up all the villains, who are condemned to exile for all their days.

Using a massive number of bronze dragons, the engines of the three space ships that were used to bring the original colonists to Pern are shifted between to the Red Star, where HNO3 canisters administer leaks that will eat through the metal surrounding the antimatter engines and eventually cause an explosion that will move the Red Star enough out of orbit that it will no longer drop Thread on Pern.  In addition, a number of green riders seed the bacteria that will eventually kill all Thread where it exists in the Oort Cloud, thus eliminating the threat of Thread forever.  What the other dragonriders don’t know is that Jaxom and Ruth lead two of the three groups far back in time to create explosions that nudge the Red Star toward its eventual orbit change–thus the two periods of long Intervals.

The book ends with Master Robinton expiring in the AIVAS chamber as the computer himself, his job done, shuts down to leave the Pernese to solve their future problems themselves.  “To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven” is his final message to everyone.

Dragonsdawn and All the Weyrs of Pern are the only genuinely science fiction novels in the Pern series.  Of course, the entire premise is based on a science fiction concept, but that is difficult to tell early in the series.  Indeed, just hearing the title “Dragonriders of Pern” makes most people automatically assume that the series is Fantasy.  Not so and these two books provide the groundwork.  And they are both very fun reads.

This book moves along quickly and it invests serious time in all of the major characters that readers have come to know and love: F’lar and Lessa, Jaxom and Sharra, Piemer and Jancis, Sebell and Menolly.  There is Robinton, D’ram, and Lytol, as well as the sympathetic Lord Holders, most notably Groghe, Larad, and Asgenar.  As the book takes place over four years–and the entire chronicle takes place over thirty Turns–we see the characters aging.  The Weyrleaders are over fifty years old now and we are seeing the decline and eventual surrender of Robinton, moved along by the actions of their enemies.

The villains are, as usual, shallow and one dimensional, while the major, positive characters are much more well-rounded.  And again, I can make the arguments that the villains are nearly unnecessary, given the difficulty of the overall problems to be overcome.  One thing that struck me in the last reading is the great depth of stupidity of McCaffrey’s bad people.  It is almost as if she’s making a point that there will always be shallow, stupid people.  On one level, that seems painfully obvious, but on another level, it seems to run counter to her ideal that most people are good and strive to improve themselves.  Humans are basically generous, fun-loving, inquisitive souls that strive to improve the world around them and also to enjoy the wonders of sexual fulfillment and of having and raising children.  These things are basic to Anne McCaffrey’s view of humanity, yet nearly every book contains a few people that are just stupid and shallow, with no inkling of what living is all about.  I guess the good thing here is that these characters are minor, as opposed Thella in The Renegades of Pern or Avril Bitra in Dragonsdawn.

Overall, this is one of the best books in the series.  If you are a fan of Pern and read the books in order, this is one of the most fun and quick to read.  If there is some sadness that the series is coming to an end, there is also much to delight in here: all of your favorites characters, plus the addition of AIVAS, the great, heroic deeds to be accomplished, the funeral of Sallah Telgar, which is something really special, and, of course, the moving of the Red Star.

It is truly a fun and well-written Dragonriders of Pern novel!

The Renegades of Pern by Anne McCaffrey

Renegades of PernThe Renegades of Pern does not neatly fit into the pattern of all of the other books covering the 9th Pass of the Red Star.  It is splintered into lots of little stories and covers the time period just before the beginning of the main Dragonriders of Pern Trilogy, running all the way up to the very beginning of All the Weyrs of Pern.  It contains both vital information regarding the main story line and vast amounts of story that just don’t really matter at all.  It is fragmented.  Telling several semi-coherent stories all at once, it covers a vast amount of time and makes for difficult reading.  It is based around some of the characters from the short story, “The Girl Who Heard Dragons,” contained in the story collection of the same name, most notably the girl Aramina and K’van.

The Prologue jumps around, compressing a full eleven years before the 9th Pass begins.  It sets of the idea of holdless men and women, from Fax’s taking of various holds, driving smaller holder into homelessness, to Toric storming out of his native sea hold to make a fresh start, to the artist Perschar’s travels, all the way up to Fax’s death before the real story begins in Chapter One.  The Prologue also introduces a female villain, the older half-sister of Lord Larad of Telgar Hold.  Lady Thella, a headstrong young woman, was betrothed to a lesser holder by her dying father, but she will have no part of it.  When Larad confines her, she escapes, stealing maps, horses, and supplies.

The Lilcamp trading train is surprised by the first fall of Thread as the 9th Pass begins, suffering many casualties. Kimmage Hold agrees to put them up, but only if they work and tithe. Jayge, son of the head trader, accepts the constriction, but his favorite Uncle Readis leaves them and joins Thella’s band of thieves and murderers.  Twelve Turns pass and Thella develops her gang into a cunning and tough, holdless bunch, fugitives sought by both holders and dragonriders.  Masterharper Robinton, at this point, has recruited the artist Perschar to infiltrate the group and draw portraits of the outlaws.  Thella hears about Aramina, a girl in living in the Igen caverns, who can hear dragons.  She plans to capture Aramina and use her to spy on the weyrs, but Aramina’s family leaves before Thella can pull it off.  Her band then attacks the Lilcamp train and a number of people are killed before Jayge can ride for help.  In the aftermath, he finds a roll of portraits drawn by Perschar, but he removes Readis’ picture before turning them in.  Jayge joins Lord Asgenar’s army in Lemos in hopes of exacting his revenge on Thella.  They discover a deeply covered cave system in Telgar and, with the aid of dragonriders, stage a morning attack, but Thella and several of her leaders escape.  Searching for Thella in the Igen caverns, Jayge meets Aramina and falls in love with her, but she is taken to Benden Weyr where Weyrwoman Lessa intends to match her up with a dragon hatchling.  While waiting, she is housed at Benden Hold where Thella finally manages to capture her and whisk her away.  Jayge finds Readis and the two rescue Aramina, but Readis is killed during their escape.  Jayge then gets them an assignment to transport runner beasts to the Southern Continent.  Lost in a storm, the boat sinks and Jayge and Aramina are carried ashore by shipfish (dolphins) to the Paradise River Hold, where they settle down to raise a family.  Their first son is named Readis.

I’ve read this book a number of times and I am now at the point where I completely disregard the entire “renegade” portion of the book and instead concentrate only on the advancement of the main story line, which I think must include Jayge and Aramina’s Paradise River Hold, but does not include Thella or any of the hundred odd pages dedicated to her story.  If you are reading the book for the first, I’d suggest that it be read, but thereafter, it may be skipped with no loss of story at all.

Although many scenes of that story line take place in the Northern Continent, it is Southern that is the main focus, particularly the story of Toric becoming Lord Holder, Piemer meeting and falling in love with Jancis, and further discoveries at Landing, including the Catherine Caves and, most importantly, AIVAS, the artificial intelligence voice address system that will dominate the next book in the series, All the Weyrs of Pern.  Piemer, during his many travels in the south, meets Jayge and Aramina when he stumbles upon Paradise River.  He is fascinated by the many ancient articles the couple have found and use, most of it plastic.  Afterward, Jayge and Aramina become recurring characters.

Many of the events throughout The Dragonriders of Pern Trilogy and The Harper Hall Trilogy are included in The Renegades of Pern, but shown from other characters’ perspectives.  For instance, when Mardra finds the empty sack that Piemer has escaped from, the entire scene is shown from Toric’s point of view as he puts up with the Weyrwoman berating him in front of his holders and craftsmen.  That alone–showing familiar events from different points of view–makes this book worth reading.  If you are a fan of the entire saga of the 9th Pass and can’t get enough of the story, here is a retelling of familiar events from a different perspective!

Those who have already read All the Weyrs of Pern may have been a bit surprised by the sudden intimacy of Piemer and Mastersmith Jancis (granddaughter of Mastersmith Fandarel), but she plays a significant role in The Renegades of Pern.   Piemer meets her after the discovery of the Catherine Caves and she is only a Journeywoman at that point.  In fact, McCaffrey seems to have deliberately created an error in Jancis’ rank.  The end of The Renegades of Pern seamlessly dovetails into the beginning of All the Weyrs of Pern with no time at all allowed for her to suddenly attain her mastery.  Be that as it may, she is a terrific character and a perfect tonic for Piemur’s acidic character.

The Renegades portion of the book comes a conclusion when Thella puts together one final band of thugs and sails south to find Aramina and try to kill her, blaming her for all that has gone wrong in her life.  Piemer, Jancis, Jayge, and Aramina fight the band and win.  Jayge gets the pleasure of killing Thella and exacting his revenge at last.  During this trip, Jancis discovers a map at Paradise River, detailing the plan for Landing.  She is intrigued by two sites that haven’t yet been uncovered: Amin Annex and AIVAS.

With Piemur’s help, she begins to unearth them, coming to the solar panels that allow AIVAS to power up.  Jaxom and Ruth join them, then the others and at the end of the book, they find a way in and discover the long abandoned computer that drives the story forward into All the Weyrs of Pern.

In this sense, it is a vital connecting book in the main story line.  The central flaw in the book is the character of Thella.

In my opinion, Anne McCaffrey, for all the wonderful characters and situations that she has created in this saga, has one fatal flaw and that is her villains.  They all come across as one-dimensional characters.  You can see it in Avril Bitra in Dragonsdawn, Fax in Dragonflight, Meron and Kylara in Dragonquest, and fatally in Thella in The Renegades of Pern.  To be effective, readers must understand the central driving force that makes villains perform their evil acts.  If there is not sufficient believable motivation, the character is flat and unbelievable.  I have this problem with all of the above-referenced characters and that is the main flaw in The Renegades of Pern and it is why I always skip over Thella’s scenes when I re-read the book.

Nevertheless, this book is a key connecting the end of The White Dragon with the latter two books in the series and it contains many wonderful scenes and the development of Piemer and the introduction of Jancis.

That part of the novel is wonderful and can be joyfully read and re-read many times.

Grace, Tamar and Laszlo the Beautiful by Deborah Kay Davies

Grace Tamar and LaszloGrace, Tamar and Laszlo the Beautiful, the 2009 Wales Book of the Year, is officially listed as a book of short stories by the acclaimed Welsh author Deborah Kay Davies, but it is much, much more than that.  In fact, I struggle to use the term “book of short stories” because the connection of the stories featuring the sisters Grace and Tamar is so tight and integrated that I am inclined to call it a novel.  This is a mature and powerful work of art intended for adult readers.

The first story, “Stirrups,” actually begins with their mother on the event of Tamar’s birth, showing how the woman’s fragile mind tries to deal with the baby girl who is Grace’s younger sister by two years.  She struggles to give her love to more than one person at a time, missing Grace and wondering if she can ever relate to this new child.  The next story, “Point,” finds Grace at the age of six already somewhat ethereal and hating her four year old sister, Tamar, for being so feral.  It is a relationship newly formed, but one that will be a part of their lives until they are adults.

From one story to the next, told in chronological order, the relationship between the two sisters dominates the book as the point of view weaves back and forth.  As a child, Tamar spends most of her time alone, creating strange games for herself, becoming fascinated with the weird neighbors, pushing her sister Grace to exasperation.  Grace lives in a world where she was the only child.  She can barely stand Tamar, yet there is a bond between them that is extremely tight.  Grace pushes Tamar from a tree, Tamar beats on Grace, they push each other back and forth and stand united in only two things: first, their amusement that their mother seems to be going insane (“Radio Baby” is a powerful reminder that their mother’s hold on reality is tenuous at best) and second, the great common dream that they share of being together as adults with their own baby.

As they grow up, Tamar’s perversity is intensified by an incident with a brutal pedophile in “Whinberries” that turns out much different than one would expect in the follow-up story “Stones.”  That perversity comes back out in her childish sexual display to her bedridden grandfather in “Fun and Games.”  Grace’s reaction is to pull back away, growing more and more distant.  In her adolescence, she seems to have difficulty understanding the banal, meaningless action of the boys around her, especially so in “Laszlo the Beautiful,” a story about her first crush.  Tamar also has difficulty relating to boys, but she is far more open sexually.  Grace acts out her sexuality in “Kissing Nina,” “Thong,” “Negligee,” and “Grace and the Basset Hound” while maintaining a strange distance from it.  She becomes engaged, gets married and divorced and seems untouched by the whole cycle.  Tamar reaches out for life in “Thong,” “Whatever,” and “Wood.” 

There is a stark parallel to Grace’s retreat from the world and Tamar’s reach to embrace it.  The importance of Tamar’s dream of the baby comes full circle in the final story, “Cords,” a taut, emotional reach between the two adult sister.

The writing throughout is beautiful, a real pleasure to read.  Lean and well-constructed, the stories are each absolutely compelling portraits of two sisters adrift in the world.  The sentences are spare, concerned only with what is most important.  Sometimes they drift, like the sisters, but they drift with a singular intensity that always reaches back to the heart of the book.

And that’s really what makes me think of this is a novel.

In a novel, one looks to see a compelling story arc, from one place to another from the beginning to the end, with an integrated theme throughout the book.  Even though Grace, Tamar and Laszlo the Beautiful jerks from one story to another, I see a very powerful, overarching story arc that binds the stories together into one, long cohesive tale that stands up to the highest scrutiny.

The jacket contains the following epithet:  “moving, hilarious and terrifying.”  I found the book to be less hilarious and more moving, but, yes, at times it is also terrifying.  I found it to be one of the more emotionally disturbing and satisfying books that I’ve read over the last twenty years.  The combination of such beautiful, powerful writing with such original, distinctive characters is quite unusual.  In fact, after I finished reading the book, I found myself drawn back to one story or another just to lose myself in the prose.  I haven’t had that feeling since I first read Salman Rushdie.

This is a great book that I highly recommend to all adult readers.

The White Dragon by Anne McCaffrey

White DragonBeginning several more Turns after the end of Dragonquest, The White Dragon shifts character perspective slightly away from Benden Weyr to concentrate on the maturing of Jaxom, the rider of the white dragon, Ruth and itinerant Lord Holder of Ruatha Hold. A number of stories are intertwined around the Renaissance of the planet Pern and The White Dragon is both a tremendously compelling story on its own and it sets up the events to occur in the final three books of main saga, The Renegades of Pern, All the Weyrs of Pern, and The Skies of Pern

The emphasis on youth is not accidental and Anne McCaffrey develops both of her young men, Jaxom and Piemur, extensively in the final novels, adding strong, bright young women as their mates, in the form of Sharra and Jancis. But The White Dragon is almost exclusively about Jaxom, beginning in his adolescence as a ward under the guidance of Lord Warder Lytol.  He is frustrated about a number of things.  His milk brother, Dorse, teases him mercilessly about his “runt” dragon.  He has not been allowed to fly Ruth while the white dragon matures.  Ruth shows no interest in mating.  Neither a Lord Holder, because of his age, nor a dragon rider, because he is a Lord Holder, Jaxom is caught between everything.  Gradually, he gets to fly Ruth, so he can escape Dorse, he cultivates his own relationship with a farm girl named Corana, and he teaches Ruth to chew firestone so he can fly with Fort Weyr against Thread.

When D’ram, Weyrleader of Ista, retires, he disappears and no one knows where to find him.  Jaxom, on a hunch that D’ram may have returned to a certain cove on the Southern Continent where Robinton and Menolly had been shipwrecked, goes with Menolly to the cove to get the impressions of the fire lizards there.  On another hunch, Jaxom goes back 25 Turns to find D’ram, so that F’lar can bring him back to usefulness.  Through this experience, Jaxom learns that Ruth always knows when he is in time, a remarkable and important talent.  The Oldtimers, exiled to the Southern Continent, are all getting old and their queens no longer rise to mate, so they pull off a clandestine operation to steal Ramoth’s hardening golden egg and hide it somewhere in time.  Coating Ruth in black river mud, Jaxom goes back through time to find the egg, steal it back, and successfully return it to Benden Weyr without anyone realizing he was the one who did it. 

War between the weyrs is averted due to Jaxom’s bravery and Ruth’s cunning, but both he and the dragon run into Thread during their jumps between times to return the egg. Seeing the damage to Jaxom and Ruth, N’ton finally agrees to let him train at Fort Weyr to fight Thread.  Even though he has the symptoms of a cold, he is so excited that he and Ruth go ahead and fly their first Fall together, but the cold gets worse.  He remembers the warm cove and decides to go there because he thinks it will make him feel better, but he utterly collapses once he gets there.  Concerned, Ruth alerts everyone and when Jaxom awakes, his eyes are covered and he is being tended by Brekke and a girl with a wonderful voice.  This turns out to be Sharra, Southern Holder Toric’s sister, whom we met in Dragondrums.

As he recuperates, a mating flight takes place at Ista to determine who the next Weyrleader will be, but two Oldtimer bronze riders show up, T’kul and B’zon.  When T’kul’s dragon Salth dies trying to mate with the new queen, he goes mad and attacks F’lar.  During the duel, F’lar kills the Oldtimer and Robinton has a major heart attack.  Robinton collapses and only the voices of the dragons keep him alive until Master Oldive arrives to treat him.  They decide to move Robinton south for his recovery with Jaxom at what will be called Cove Hold.  Jaxom, Sharra, and Piemer have had the place all to themselves, but now they must deal with hordes from the north coming in to build the new hall for the Harper. 

Jaxom falls in love with Sharra and is determined that she will soon become his lady. Once Robinton is installed in Cove Hold, he recruits the young people to continue to chart the Southern Continent.  On impulse, Jaxom goes to investigate the gigantic mountain that dominates the view.  Sharra, Piemer, and Menolly go with him and they discover the site of the original landing of the planetary colonists, their ancestors.  When Toric objects to a match between Jaxom and Sharra, Robinton and the Weyrleaders intervene and distract Toric while discussing what Southern lands should be his.  Jaxom, meanwhile, goes to Southern Hold and rescues Sharra from Toric’s men, bringing her back to Landing, where Toric has no option but to approve.  Jaxom reveals that it was he who returned Ramoth’s egg after the Oldtimers had stolen it and, in an afterward, Jaxom is confirmed as Lord Holder and Lytol will move south to work with Robinton.

This is easily best novel of the three that make up the Dragonriders of Pern trilogy.  It reflects a maturity in Anne McCaffrey’s writing that was missing in Dragonflight and merely growing in Dragonquest.  Part of this maturity comes from the depth of the characters and the evolution of the entire planet of Pern as a completely and faithfully realized world.  The love for her characters that reflected a big step forward in Dragonquest blooms in The White Dragon and finally explodes in The Harper Hall Trilogy that followed hard on the heels of this great novel.

The White Dragon, together with The Harper Hall Trilogy and All the Weyrs of Pern, represents the best writing about Pern that Anne McCaffrey was to accomplish in a long and distinguished career as a science fiction writer.

The Dragonriders of Pern

 

Anne McCaffrey

The Dragonriders of Pern Saga

(An Introduction to the World of Pern)

REVIEWS

The Dragonriders of Pern Trilogy

DragonflightDragonflight

This first book of The Dragonriders of Pern saga began as two novellas, “Weyr Search,” which won the 1968 Hugo Award for Best Novella and “Dragonrider,” which won the Nebula Award for Best Novella in 1969, making author Anne McCaffrey the first woman to ever win either one of the prestigious science fiction writing awards. It is the only Dragonrider novel that focuses exclusively on the relationship between F’lar and Lessa 

dragonquestDragonquest

The sequel to Dragonflight and the second book in the Dragonriders of Pern Trilogy, Dragonquest substantially expands the range of featured characters.  Where the first book concentrated almost exclusively on F’lar and Lessa, the second novel spreads its point of view far and wide.  Masterharper Robinton, Menolly, F’nor, queen rider Brekke, and the boy who is to inherit Ruatha Hold, Lord Jaxom, all take center stage at one point or another, while the Weyrleader and Weyrwoman continue to expand their leadership roles.

White DragonThe White Dragon

Beginning several more Turns after the end of Dragonquest, The White Dragon shifts character perspective slightly away from Benden Weyr to concentrate on the maturing of Jaxom, the rider of the white dragon, Ruth and itinerant Lord Holder of Ruatha Hold.


 

The Harper Hall of Pern Trilogy

DragonsongMcCaffrey Dragonsong

The youngest daughter of Yanus, Holder of Half-Circle Sea Hold, on the wild Eastern part of the northern continent, Menolly is 15 years old at the beginning of the novel.  Petiron, the Hold Harper, had found her to have an exceptional musical talent when she was very young.  Even though girls were not allowed to be Harpers, he taught her how to play all of the instruments and encouraged her to write her lovely songs.

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DragonsingerDragonsinger

Dragonsinger is the sequel to Dragonsong and the second book of the Harper Hall Trilogy.  In the main Pern timeline, it occurs roughly at the same time as the later sections of Dragonquest (the second novel of the Dragonriders of Pern Trilogy).  It continues Menolly’s story from the ending of Dragonsong as she arrives at the Harper Hall to begin her new life as a musician.  It is highly recommended that one read Dragonsong before reading Dragonsinger.

Dragondrumsdragon-drums-det_0

Piemer’s voice breaks just as he is preparing to sing the role of Lessa in a new composition by Domick and Menolly, written especially for Lord Groghe’s Spring Festival.  Without his voice, the boy’s world is turned upside down.  Fearing for his future he visits his voice master, Shonagar, only to find that he will be replaced as the man’s apprentice.  Shonagar sends him to the Masterharper of Pern, Robinton, for reassignment.  His depression over his change of circumstances changes to elation as he finds that he will become Robinton’s apprentice now, but there are, of course, complications.


 Other Books in the Series

dragonsdawnDragonsdawn

Dragonsdawn is a prequel to the entire Dragonriders of Pern saga.  This novel tells the story of the group of colonists who actually settled Pern and it explains most of how the society devolved into what readers encountered when they opened their first Pern book, which is normally (and should be) Dragonflight during the Ninth Pass of the Red Star.  If readers had any difficulty understanding that world, this will explain all, from the difference between a wherry and a watchwher to how the dragons were evolved from fire-lizards.


 

Renegades of PernThe Renegades of Pern

The Renegades of Pern is splintered into lots of little stories and covers the time period just before the beginning of the main Dragonriders of Pern Trilogy, running all the way up to the very beginning of All the Weyrs of Pern.  It contains both vital information regarding the main story line and vast amounts of story that just don’t really matter at all.


All the Weyrs of PernAll the Weyrs of Pern

In what many thought might be the last of the Pern 9th Pass novels, the computer AIVAS (Artificial Intelligence Voice Address System) serves as a major character in the fight to end Thread forever.


Skies of Pern Les EdwardsThe Skies of Pern

In this final book in the 9th Pass saga of The Dragonriders of Pern, the story turns to the aftermath of events in All the Weyrs of Pern.  F’lessan, son of F’lar and Lessa, rider of bronze dragon Golanth, has settled into the ruins of ancient Honshu Hold and is looking for an occupation for the time After the last fall of Thread.  Researching his hold at Landing, he runs into Tai, rider of green dragon Zaranth at Turnover and their meeting changes both of their lives–and the future of Pern.